Pffffft. Or maybe pssshhhaw? Nothing makes me angrier than having to look up how to spell onomatopoeia just to say I’m not an onomatopoeia expert. I’m trying to explain the sound that happened when I involuntarily raised my tongue to my hard palate and forcefully ejected the life giving oxygen from my lungs. If you need a better demonstration, head east-bound and down Roosevelt Row sometime starting at Central and keep looking to your left and staring at the sky. After you make the described noise you’re likely to emit some words in vain; you might as well be facing Him when you do.
I’m talking about the Three Birds mural, the most iconic public artwork (for me personally) before the development started downtown. It was attached to some building we’ve all forgotten at 222 E Roosevelt that was just completely in the way and had to go. So down came the ax. And as the condos rise from the dust of that old gallery, it’s a harbinger of doom for the rest of the neighborhood. Sure, we all had some good times protesting! We fought hard and won the concession of having the mural redone on the side of the apartments set to replace it. Hooray and party hats and all that shit.
Look, I’ll try to be fair here. I’m a reasonable guy. I may have gone into thoracic spasms the first time someone texted me a photo of my favorite downtown ex-mural in its new form, but after I meditated myself back to a point where breathing is a thing I do again, I realized this is the olive branch we have been dutifully waiting for from the condo developers. I doubt “pffft” was the desired reaction on their part, so being a reasonable guy, I looked into what the artist was looking to achieve.
I do have to say I was impressed that the developers of iLuminate worked with the artist who created the original Three Birds, which will now be forever known as The Fonz because I said so, to develop this new tribute piece, which will be known as The Pied Piper for reasons that will become apparent. I say impressed, but really I mean confused. Something is clearly not right about this piece that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe if I just could see what the artist was trying to do here I would start to sing the praises of The Pied Piper.
Fortunately the Phoenix New Times ran an article called ‘The Story Behind Lauren Lee’s New Three Birds In Flight Mural in Downtown Phoenix,’ so we do have a 100% accurate, non-gentrified version of the story straight from the horse’s mouth, ￼without even the slightest hint of the corrupting stench of concern for the opinions of the corporate overlords.
The stated intention was that these are the original three birds, except now they’re flying, because HEY LOOK! We put those fuckers in the air! They’re flying now, so you can’t see this six story concrete sarcophagus anymore. Everything is okay unwashed masses! We met you half way and you have the same mural except now it doesn’t look all crappy and it’s all about freedom! Sure, birds can be a symbol of spiritual freedom, but far more often I see birds referenced as caged spirits yearning. Maybe the caged bird sings because ‘Merica?
I haven’t looked to see if iLuminate is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ikea, because that would be no fun when I know for a fact that’s not true, but they were clearly inspired by their last trip to buy some garbage they couldn’t pronounce. This is the key to realizing what has gone wrong with The Pied Piper: it’s a problem of medium. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the board of a company that sells very nice looking furniture out of lumberyard scraps and particle board would be incapable of understanding the nuance of artistic mediums when commissioning a mural. If they were looking to create a series of panels based on the original that fixed all of its “problems” and sell them under the name LITTLACK at $79/panel, then mission accomplished.
I cannot even begin to imagine that Lauren Lee doesn’t understand medium, as The Fonz works perfectly because of the medium at a level far beyond believing this lives in the realm of a happy accident. I am left to the surprising conclusion that maybe, just maybe, getting contracted by a committee to paint may lead an artist to hide her intentions, especially when asked to state her reasoning in some public forum. I am left with the conclusion that the birds being in flight was an intentional choice and a dog whistle for all the artists downtown: it’s high time to give up and ship out.
“Goddamn Gentrification” were the only words I remember from the man sitting next to me while I watched Firehouse’s take on Rocky Horror, though I remember specifically how impassioned this man was with that topic, which I had not solicited in any form. The capital G is definitely required to express the deeply religious nature this topic had taken for many locals. His insistence on the coming gloom and doom beckoned me to give up.
We reached out to Lauren Lee, but she didn’t respond.
I wholeheartedly believe this was the sentiment the artist has snuck by the camel-creating committees of corporate condo-hood. Those birds don’t look free. They look like they’re flying out of the way of those godzilla sized monsters chewing up and swallowing everything in their path. Whenever a natural disaster comes, the animals are the first to flee. It’s the forest telling us to get the fuck out. When a corporate disaster comes, it’s murals of animals that light the signal fires for us.
Why are we even trying? Roosevelt Row is bounded to the east by the Garfield neighborhood, which is partially North Scottsdale and to the west by streets unmatched in poshness of the cities bordering Topanga Canyon Boulevard. What are we even doing any of this for anyway? Wouldn’t we be more productive to society as bankers? The world can always use more bankers, then we can sell more sub-prime loans to sell more condos. Win-win-win! What I propose we do is try to spread out artists as thinly as possible throughout the massive Phoenix sprawl to try to minimize creative interactions as much as possible, as we have always done.
Foto via Flickr